As president and CEO of JDC Events
, Jennifer Collins believes bringing people together is one of the greatest ways to advance as a society. In tune with what it takes to be successful, she and her team position clients—corporate, nonprofit and association groups—to create impactful events that get results. Connect recently caught up with the Washington, D.C.-based Collins to chat about her new book, “Events Spark Change: A Guide to Designing Powerful and Engaging Events
,” and building strategic events with the power to change the world.
What type of professional would benefit the most from reading “Events Spark Change?”
This book is for anyone who has very limited or no experience in building events and may find themselves in that role, whether in their job or in a volunteer capacity. The book teaches you to think through the purpose behind designing an event from the standpoint of the people attending. You learn that it’s not about you—which is important for event professionals to embrace and understand.
How did you first get involved in event planning?
I started out planning family reunions in college. We hosted them in locations where we either had family or locations that we wanted to travel to near family, such as Connecticut, Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, Savannah, Williamsburg, Washington, D.C., and Cincinnati. What I loved about the family reunions was the end of it—not because the planning was over, but because of how it made everyone feel. That was the rush for me: Seeing how that event and overall experience was so memorable and something they would carry with them until the next time we met. It was then that I started to understand and appreciate their purpose and power.
Looking back on your time as the only JDC employee, what were some of your successes and struggles?
My struggles were many, mainly lack of financial resources and time. I was still working full-time when I started the business, and did so for four years. I really didn’t have the ability to do that much because of my day job. So, that time was very limiting. But my overall successes were in networking enough to gain traction and interest of our services, which eventually led to my first client that catapulted me to leave my full-time and work the business full-time.
What advice do you have for someone looking to start their own event planning business?
I started my business because I loved the work. But as you grow a business, you find the work starts to take a backseat to the other priorities required to run a business. In the business world, it’s often said that entrepreneurs need to shift from working in the business to working on the business. I didn’t understand that until many years went by. That, along with having enough money to sustain you and the right advisors who can help you, is priceless. This may not only lead to potential clients, but it can help you navigate situations quicker because you have access to the right people who can offer you valuable guidance, perspectives and insights.
When things go wrong at an event, how do you solve them?
With improvisation, strong communication and never letting them see you sweat. This will also largely depend on the actual issue, but one thing that is needed is to show that you’re in control and handling the situation whatever it may be. This may require calling an immediate meeting to address the issue, or if it’s happening live then to work with whoever may be the best person to bring about a solution. After it’s resolved—after the event—is then the best time to discuss it further. It’s also important to be honest and keep only those who need to know regularly updated.
How do you stay on top of trends in the industry? Are there any trends you’re intrigued by?
I regularly attend industry-related conferences that offer new perspectives and highlight industry trends. Professional development is important in the event industry since the industry changes quickly and is very visual. As for interesting trends, there’s technology such as facial recognition, virtual reality headsets and holograms that are quickly vying for a place within the event industry. They’re already being incorporated, but not across the board. I think certainly technology will move into becoming the rule rather than the exception as that of smartphones.
What are some unique things JDC has done for clients?
We’ve built customized tours for clients around select locations for them to get a feel for the spirit and offerings of a destination. Such activities include Segway and water tours, unique performances at performing arts venues and tastes of cities by hopping to different restaurants for each meal course. We’ve also hosted customized tours of the U.S. Capitol showing clients areas the regular public wouldn’t get to see. We’ve featured entertainment from marching bands to the Sugar Hill Gang and other headliners, while also featuring special guests including former presidents.